If you read this nonsense, then it’d be pretty odd if you weren’t aware of long term sheep imaginer Jo Burt and his view of the world. If not, suggest you pop over there and enjoy a far more cerebral pastiche on why we ride mountain bikes. While I am writing this, there are seven first and second line relatives sat in our house aghast that I’d rather be riding/writing/obsessing over all things wheels and dirt ,than giving a fuck about what they may find interesting. For which, I shall be in trouble later, and quite right too because they probably deserve better than my one track mind dictates.
Eight hours ago, I was stamping cold feet, all alone, on a sodden trail framed by a backdrop of horizontal snow and gale force winds. I cupped a hand against squinting eyes in an attempt to locate my riding mate Nige downstream. The view down trail depicted a snow blasted mountain biker struggling against a headwind, while being significantly splashed with ice cold water on every pedal stroke.
On arrival at my impromptu rubbish aerobics class, he whipped off his misty glasses, fired up a big grin and declared to the world exactly what I was thinking “God, this is bloody brilliant isn’t it?” The day before we’d knocked off a couple of great trails under leaden, cold skies but without any vertical moistness, while in the company of a good slice of the MTB community working off Christmas excess.
Today we had the trails to ourselves which considering the forecast, the actual weather and the obvious stupidity of any checking the former, before gleefully heading out into the latter wasn’t that surprising. And while my waterproofing was almost complete from head to toe, a slab of flesh between knee and ankle remained bare and unprotected. Hence the foot stamping.
Nige – smug in his thermal longs – pointed upwards and away we went encountering nothing but increasingly heavy snow and the blissful solitude. Conditions at the climbs’ end were pretty epic, with the wind whipping away conversation, and our tyres forging fresh tracks on an ever deepening winter covering . Nige blazed a trail and we slipped and slid down the exposed valley edge, all the time being cheekily blown about in directions we really didn’t want to go. Back in the trees, the fresh snow returned to a pasty mush meaning we could add speed and bravery to increasing momentum.
First descent done, water now trapped in waterproof shoes and sleet slashing at miracle fabrics, we made haste to where more fun was to be had. Sure, slower that we normally ride that trail and certainly with more caution but it’s bikes, and it’s dirt so it’s all good right? The car parks were empty, riders had gone home frightened by doom laden weather reports and breakfast rain, but we were out there, doing our thing and wondering why the hell you wouldn’t take these fantastic bikes, this weatherproof clothing and these awesome trails blending them together into an experience that has nothing to do with duty and everything to do with the nebulous concept of doing stupid stuff for fun.
The last trail is a favourite for both of us, and I’d intended to go for a formation finish but faffing with saddles and glasses saw Nige disappear with a velocity I associate with a lack of imagination. Slightly steadier, I felt the dirt unwind under my tyres and concentrated on nothing else but being smooth, brake-less and mildly courageous. This yielded the result of delivering the best five minutes I can remember – and I will remember – for quite some time.
It’s hard to describe why, so I’m not even going to try. Really it was a pretty dumb day to be riding, and by the time we’d high tailed it back a few k’s to the cars, both of us were on the slightly hypothermic side of frozen. The trails weren’t running fast, there was nothing we did we haven’t done before quicker, roosting dust tails and boosting off rocks.
But as Nige and I shared a post ride handshake, we both knew we’d shared an experience that so few have, and even less understand. We understood we couldn’t explain to our families why being a tad frightened, in a bit deeper that we wanted to be, and waving two soggy fingers at conformity was a happy place that has the gravitational pull of a small moon.
No, we really couldn’t explain it. But we do know this.
This is why.